Find out how you can exercise your right to freedom of speech while upholding the University’s values – and what to do if someone has expressed an opinion which has made you feel unsafe.

Free speech when there’s war or global conflict

Everyone has a right to freedom of expression, within the law, including protest and dissent. The current situation in Israel and Palestine, and many other conflicts, create strong emotions and passionately held views, sometimes leading to disagreement in our community. Differing beliefs and positions, and how they are expressed on campus, makes some people concerned about their physical and psychological safety. The following outlines some considerations to help you make decisions about your rights and responsibilities in relation to freedom of speech. It is important that lawful opinion can be expressed and heard safely and we expect you to follow our principles below when exercising freedom of expression.

“We have challenged convention since the University’s foundation in 1961. From the campus’ modernist architecture on the edge of a rural national park, to our progressive academics and creative professional services staff, to the inspiring students who choose to learn and live here, to the very tone of the institution and the nature of its conversations, through to the expressions of radicalism, critical thinking and, at times, dissent.”

Treat others with dignity and respect

Dignity and respect at Sussex is everyone’s right and responsibility. You can read more about the University’s position in our Dignity and Respect policy.

Support each other to work towards mutual understanding, as we embrace diversity of background and belief at Sussex. Above all, we should demonstrate empathy and kindness towards each other, even more so at incredibly difficult times.

The safety, security, and wellbeing of all members of the University is our highest priority. The University will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia or any form of racism, harassment, or discrimination.

Be mindful of what you post on social media

Social media is part of social life, and harassment through social media is still harassment. Freedom of speech is important, at the same time there are some legal restrictions, particularly around incitement to hatred, prejudice and what are referred to as proscribed organisations.Public expressions of support for these can be unlawful. There can be serious implications for anyone who makes posts on social media about other students, or in relation to the situation in Israel and Palestine, or other conflicts, that cross legal boundaries or violate the University’s regulations. The University will take action where students engage in harassment or threatening behaviour towards other students or members of staff.

Our guiding principles

At the University of Sussex, we are committed to providing an inclusive, respectful, and supportive learning and working environment for our diverse and international community. We ensure that diversity of belief and opinion can be expressed and heard safely and legally, and facilitate dialogue between those with differing views. We are committed to advancing knowledge through rigorous, rational, evidenced argument and respectful discussion.

These commitments support our responsibility for academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law, and our determination to make Sussex a place in which everyone is able to flourish.

Find out more about our vision for Inclusive Sussex and see our commitment to freedom of speech.

What is freedom of speech?

  • Video transcript

    [Professor David Ruebain and student Digital Media Creator, Abby sitting either side of a table in an office on Sussex campus]

    Abby: Hi everyone, my name is Abby, and I am one of the Digital Media Creators here at Sussex.

    And today I am here with...

    David: Hello everyone. Hi Abby. My name is David Ruebain, I'm the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Culture, Equality and Inclusion here at the University of Sussex and I am also the University's Free Speech Officer.

    Abby: So I'm here today to have a conversation with David exactly about freedom of speech. And so, let's start!

    David: Thank you Abby.

    Abby: So I have a few questions for you. And the first one is, can you tell us what the definition of freedom of speech is?

    David: Well, thank you, and thanks for the opportunity for doing this.

    There are several definitions of free speech but the foundational one, the most important one, if you like is in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is now part of the Human Rights Act 1998, and that protects the right of freedom of expression.

    And it covers political expression, including peaceful protests and demonstrations; artistic expression; commercial expression; and both popular and unpopular expressions, providing that they are within the law.

    It protects the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds and as I have indicated, by any means.

    And I would also say that not only is it set out in the law but it's set out in the University's own instruments of government as a foundational aspect of who we are and what we do.

    Abby: Thank you, that was a really comprehensive definition. And so I wanted to lead on from that.

    So when can freedom of speech legally be restricted?

    David: There are a number of limitations on free speech, some of them relate to criminal law like prohibitions of hate speech or harassment or incitement to commit crimes or terrorism.

    Others are more about protecting the rights of other individuals, such as preventing harassment or defamation. So there are a number of areas where it may be limited.

    But unless they are expressly set out in the law, then everyone has a right to freedom of speech.

    Abby: Thank you for that. I think it's really useful to know when freedom of speech can legally be restricted as well, especially when it infringes on other people's rights.

    And so, on the flip side I wanted to know, when can't freedom of speech be legally restricted?

    David: Well, pretty much in every other area, and most importantly, it is not lawful to restrict free speech even if it upsets other people - providing it's lawful speech.

    It's not lawful to restrict free speech even if other people strongly disagree or if they feel that the opinions or viewpoints are wrong, or even oppressive, providing again, it's within the law - providing it doesn't cross the legal boundaries that I've mentioned.

    Abby: Thank you, that was actually really useful to know, absolutely. And since we are at a university setting, I wanted to place this conversation into that setting and I wanted to ask, what does freedom of speech mean for students and staff at university?

    David: It means that each of us, all of us, have a right to say what we want, and to express our views, providing it's within the law, and that includes political views, again, providing it's within the law and not only for staff and students, but also for visitors who come onto campus for whatever reason.

    I think more importantly, even than that it's foundational for any university to ensure this range of diverse viewpoints is available.

    Universities are at their best when they are engaging with a range of ideas and indeed creating new ideas and discoveries through scholarship, and teaching, and research, and learning.

    And the exchange of lawful views is critical for that.

    Abby: So, I think what you said was really interesting about how diverse viewpoints are really important in a university setting especially for students who are here to learn, and of course, academics as well.

    And that leads on to our next point here which talks about academic freedom. So I wanted to ask you what is academic freedom, and how is this different from freedom of speech?

    David: Yes, that's a great question.

    Academic freedom is similar to freedom of speech, but is distinct in its own right and it relates to the rights of an academic to have flexibility and freedom in what they teach and how they teach their subject; what ideas they want to talk about in the subjects that they teach; how they discuss the issues that they talk about; how they research; how they publish. To not be subject to institutional censorship and to not suffer professional detriment or disadvantage as a result of teaching ideas or thoughts within their subject specialism which might be unpopular, for example, or might be different from the commonplace view about that idea.

    So, it really affords academics particular rights to be able to explore where their thinking and research goes.

    Abby: Thank you. And I think that's obviously important in a university setting to ensure that knowledge can grow, and that students can learn more as well.

    And that leads on to my next question - why is academic freedom important at university?

    David: If you look at the development of ideas, even over the centuries, we have relied on, to a significant extent, people to be able to think, and research, and teach freely so as to enable us to understand differently, and often better, the way things are.

    There was a time, not so long ago, where people believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth, for example, or even that the Earth was flat!

    And it required people who understood or thought differently to be able to develop those ideas and explore them, and really that's the essence of university life.

    So, academic freedom is important precisely so that we can continue to test our knowledge and develop it in the pursuit of truth and understanding.

    Abby: I really like that bit of history you gave us there! It's really telling as well how challenging known knowledge is really important for us to keep on developing.

    And that leads on to my final question. So, of course, challenging the viewpoints of others can be quite risky, I guess - how do we ensure that we aren't harming others with academic freedom?

    David: Yes, I think it's always important to try and engage with each other with a degree of civility and thoughtfulness and even, if possible, to recognise how our words might land on other people.

    Now, for some subjects, that may be more important than others, but everybody, whether they are staff, or students, or visitors will have a range of lived experiences they will bring and whilst it's critically important that we protect academic freedom and freedom of speech, and ensure that they are embedded in all of our work, it doesn't mean to say that we have to be harsh.

    And indeed, in many ways, creating a culture of collegiality, of engagement, ideas, where we know and understand that its important to allow each other to express different views and opinions is all part of ensuring success in a university.

    Abby: Alright, thank you so much for those really great answers David! That's all the questions that I have for you today.

    David: Thanks very much. Thank you.

    [Screen fades to black]

What to do if you’ve been made to feel unsafe

We recognise that there may be some instances where our guiding principles are not followed and you, or someone you know feels unsafe. See the support available to you below.

Report an incident

If you’ve experienced a hate incident, discrimination, bullying or sexual violence, let us know using the Report and Support tool. If you have told us you’d like to speak with someone, we’ll be in touch. You can also report anonymously. This let us know about issues in our community, although we can’t usually follow up cases of anonymous reporting.

Report and Support also provides information about the issues people report, how this tool works, and further resources. In addition:

Antisemitic incidents can be reported to the Community Security Trust. Jewish Students can contact the Union of Jewish Students for support via their welfare hotline on 02074 243288.

You can report Islamophobic incidents to Tell MAMA, which offers a free counselling service that can be accessed via

Contact security

The University is generally a safe place and security patrol the campus 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, it is good to be aware of where to find help if you think that you or someone else is at risk.

Contact University security.

More support

If you have been affected by issues of conflict, see the support available to you.

On campus mental health support

You can get advice on any issue that may be affecting you. You can contact the Student Centre or use My Sussex to book an appointment to visit our friendly advisors.

You can also see group sessions and workshops run by our Therapeutic Services.

You may find the multi-faith Chaplaincy to be a useful resource, both as a welcoming space and in relation to specific services and staff.

Online mental health support

Free online mental health support is available for students by using Togetherall to explore your feelings in a safe and supportive environment at any time of the day. Register online with your Sussex email address to get started.

Financial support

If you are experiencing financial hardship, either as a result of recent events or due to other circumstances, find out about hardship support available.

Prevent Duty

The University has an obligation called the Prevent Duty and events at Sussex have to be evaluated in relation to this. This evaluation needs to be taken in the context of the right to freedom of expression, and protest and our approach to the Prevent Duty is proportionate to our locality and context. It is also underpinned by the values of equality and diversity which continue to inform our inclusive approach to the core activities of research, teaching and learning.

The Prevent Duty relates to pre-criminal matters and focuses on those deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ to being drawn into terrorism. The University has excellent support services and welfare procedures for when students or staff are struggling to cope. These procedures will be used, in the first instance, for handling cases of perceived vulnerability, whether this be related to personal issues or matters relating to the Prevent Duty. Find out how we are carrying out our statutory responsibilities under the Prevent Duty.